So, having returned from a research and conference trip in Europe a month ago, I’m now packing my bags again. The Australia Council has offered me a two-month residency to write at the B.R. Whiting studio. What can I say, except that this is the perfect end to an amazing year.
One of the loveliest things about getting two grants earlier this year was that I was able to pay myself a wage for what I love: writing. This in turn meant that I could afford to have my teeth fixed – something I’ve been putting off for five and a half years because I couldn’t afford it, and going back to England to visit my friends (the first trip I’ve made since leaving London). In England, I also did some archival research for my Rosa Praed book, with absolutely amazing results. More of that in a later post.
I’ve written another 30,000 words of my draft of The Sea Creatures, my third novel, so I’m up to roughly 80,000 words. Much of this is crap and can’t be used, but it hasn’t been entirely wasted, because it’s given me an understanding of the characters and their histories.
I did think I’d be up to the point of doing and inserting the research for it by now, but I just haven’t been able to get a handle on the voices or timeline. The action takes place over millennia, for it among other things it charts the life of a mermaid that lives forever. Her voice is the product of millions of years of adaptation and it took a while to capture this. Meanwhile, I found myself doubling up on some of the perspectives of the characters, so I have to find more innovative ways of conveying information.
At first I panicked at these stumbling blocks, and thought I’d have to toss out everything I’d written and start again, but then I realised it was just a part of growing as an artist, and that I needed to just keep on hacking my way through the brambles. As I go, I have been taking great comfort from writer Charlotte Wood’s interviews with other authors. Joan London, for example, said that, ‘I hate it when I’m beginning something and it’s slow and tentative and clumsy, and I’m not sure at all that it will work ... But when it is coming together, then I love it, really.’ I’m still stumbling along, but I have complete faith that this book will work, and work well.
However, although I’ve grabbed some time for writing this year, for the most part it’s been running around madly, going to conferences and writing papers to improve my profile so I can get a job, or a postdoc, or more funding. So much of being a writer is just getting money to survive, or finance the next project, or doing endless social media to keep one’s name in the public’s consciousness. As Queensland author Kim Wilkins wrote in September’s issue of WQ: ‘This is not being yourself, this is playing yourself, and that means that a good deal of your time is spent kind of outside yourself looking in, looking at yourself and thinking, “Hey, am I being engaging enough in this? Am I being approachable enough? Have I blogged enough? Do I need to tell people more about myself? Oh my god, did I overshare? What’s going on here? I don’t know.” While you’re doing that, do you know what you’re not doing? You’re not being inside yourself nurturing your creativity from the inside, which is your core business; this is what you need to be doing as a creative artist.’
So, time in Rome means time to be creative and get through all the projects I haven’t had time to finish this year, as well as starting new ones involving poetry & research. I am a little apprehensive about going – I’ll miss my beau, my family, and my hairdresser — but by god am I looking forward to uninterrupted time to write.